Why do our practices get no bad press when we’re carrying out Schumacher’s vision for London?

WHO ARE WE?

We are not … Patrik Schumacher

                      …  Starchitects

                      … “Social housing stars!

WHAT ARE WE RESPONDING TO?

We’ve watched closely, these past few weeks, as the media-storm around Patrik Schumacher’s keynote address at 2016’s World Architecture Festival has hit the mainstream press. Much of the public anger has been directed at Schumacher as an isolated individual. The predominant response from the architectural establishment has been to frame his views as an aberration, carefully distanced from the profession’s official line. Phineas Harper of the Architectural Foundation, writing in Dezeen, described Schumacher’s views as a ‘fantasy’, and urged – ‘[i]t is time to stop listening’. This disguises the fact that, far from being a fantasy, Schumacher’s super-capitalist capital is already being designed by London-based architects. Architects for Social Housing has been an outspoken and active critic, proposing alternatives to demolition projects; whilst the architectural profession in general has been complacent and complicit in the wholesale privatisation of public land and the social cleansing of our cities. At least Schumacher is honest.

The architects who seize and capitalise upon the complete annihilation of so-called ‘sink estates’ are not decried, as Schumacher has rightfully been, but instead awarded the ultimate commendation for their ‘outstanding’ design work.

The offices we work for operate in the practice of estate regeneration, generating huge revenues from their services to both Labour and Tory councils in increasing land value and displacing the undesirables. Our bosses profit from the rhetoric of a ‘housing crisis’, growing their businesses in the time of a recession; their dubious work done in the name of improvement and progress. They are seen as champions of solutions to a problem rather than the architects of it.

The work we do is disguised as community-led, consultation-driven and contextually-aware. Hand-crafted ‘friendly’-looking timber models and quirky hand drawings, trotted out at community presentations, hide the brutality of demolition and architectural construction that is devoid of context. A sweet PR game is played with the media, from the safety of a plush office interior. Meanwhile, bosses are more than happy to pay their workers less than London Living Wage, whilst we undertake the work that prices us out of our city. The hypocrisy of this situation points to the utter corruption of the system as it stands.

WHAT DO WE SUGGEST?

Schumacher – who admits he has little concrete knowledge to back his ‘solutions’ to the ‘housing crisis’, and has no involvement with public housing projects in London  – has already agreed to a public debate with ASH.

We now challenge the heads of leading regeneration practices, as housing “specialists”, to counter our insights, and participate in an open debate about the gentrification they are enabling.

dRMM – Alex De Rijke, Sadie Morgan, Philip Marsh, Jonas Lencer

Haworth Tompkins – Graham Haworth, Steve Tompkins

HTA Design – Ben Derbyshire (President-Elect of RIBA)

Karakusevic Carson Architects – Paul Karakusevic

Mae – Alex Ely

PRP – Anne-Marie Nicholson, Neil Griffiths, Brendan Kilpatrick

We are workers of major regeneration practices, and for fear of our jobs we will remain anonymous. We encourage all dissenting voices, who bear witness to the atrocities executed in the name of ‘urban progress’, to come forward and disclose their experiences to architecturalworkers@riseup.net 

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FAQs

This is a working document. The answers below cover our ambition and ethos, in response to frequently asked questions. For more information please see our Manifesto.

01. How can I get involved?

¬ You can report your practice to the RIBA for not paying the [London] Living Wage, as per RIBA requirements. Email them at info@riba.org with the subject line :’[London] Living Wage – breach of Chartered Practice Criteria’. 

¬ Pass on information to us about company malpractice and how your office has been instrumental in gentrification. Disclose close relationships between developers, planning authorities and architects. Tell us about how your work has contributed to furthering the privatisation of London. Email us privately (see FAQ .02)

¬ Print out a poster and put up in your workplace, local area or university, or share online.

¬ Contribute to our survey of architectural practices. Your anonymous answers will help us to build a strong case against the work done by our offices, safeguarding the interests of workers and residents alike.

¬ Submit your questions for the debate we’re hosting this year with the heads of London’s leading regeneration firms. You may be a resident of our city or worker in one of our practices. You may be wondering what went wrong with your consultation process, or why your concerns haven’t been listened to. Together we’ll hold those with power to steer London development to account.

¬ Contact us directly at architecturalworkers@riseup.net and become involved in the longer struggle. We are looking for input on graphics, research, social media, filmography. Your help will be invaluable to communicating to a wide audience effectively, making our arguments clear and bold.

02. How do I send Architectural Workers an anonymous email?

For a back and forth exchange we recommend creating an email account using credentials that can’t be linked to your real identity. This should only take a few minutes. For a single email you can use a disposable email address using www.guerrillamail.com. Write to us at architecturalworkers@riseup.com

03. Who can join Architectural Workers?

We are particularly interested in architectural workers who work within the 6 regeneration practices we named in our Open Letter in December 2016. These are dRMM, Howarth Thompkins, HTA Design, Karakusevic Carson, MAE, PRP. Currently we are gathering information for our debate later this year. We want to know about staff treatment, ‘unspoken’ office rules, operating procedures and specific instances where residents interests have been intentionally de-prioritised.

Those working in regeneration practices not named above, or other architect’s offices are welcome to join us. You are necessary to illustrate the breadth of the industry’s failures. You may be a chartered architect unhappy with the course of your professional career in financialized home-destruction. You may be an office administrative worker who can provide key insights into company accounts and pay discrepancies.

If you don’t work in or around architecture, you are very welcome to join us. We are looking for input on graphics, research, social media, filmography. Your help will be invaluable to communicating to a wide audience effectively, making our arguments clear and bold.

We meet weekly and commit some evenings and weekends to Architectural Workers. We welcome anyone who can contribute their time and skills, on an ad hoc or more routine basis.

We welcome people from all academic and professional backgrounds. We value the input of people across gender, race, class and religious backgrounds. If you think there’s a problem with the nature of regeneration in London today, help us change it.

04. How will Architectural Workers benefit me?

We can provide advice on how to successfully talk to your employers about pay and other workers’ rights. We can help you draft emails that accurately and effectively communicate your demands. We can provide a support network of experienced practioners in the same field.

05. Why do you work for the practices you criticize?

We work at our respective practices for a number of reasons. In a pressurized industry, where housing is seen as unglamourous and formulaic, housing practices attract a mix of employees. For some, access to the job market is difficult and protracted, and housing offices have been the only work going. For others, housing represented a last bastion of state-led architecture, a mirage of socially conscious and ethical practice. The offices we work for maintain a very careful media presence, and it’s often only on working on projects within them that we’ve been able to see through the spin.

06. Why are you anonymous?

Staying anonymous allows us to voice real concerns to a public audience. We’re enabled to discuss openly what we can’t talk about in the office. Anonymity allows us to continue organising and gain knowledge within the industry we want to reform. Lastly, safeguarding our identities is key to protect our livelihoods and income.

07. Doesn’t regeneration improve ‘run-down’ estates?

Having spent years working across leading ‘regeneration’ practices, we’ve grown to be wary of the socially-led claims made by our bosses, journalists and local councils alike.

In many cases, it’s difficult to portray to a wider public the many effects of regeneration beyond the project statistics: how many homes created, or the offsetting proposed by delivering a new play facility. Such descriptions deliberately obscure the cumulative effect of gentrification, as well as the sticky processes and intentions behind ‘regeneration’ projects.  Even statistics, which might declare that a scheme is ‘100% social housing’, can be deployed in ways that disguise the real implications of the development. The purely affordable development is in fact a decant site for estate demolition, replacing homes at a rate less than 1 for 1 so that new luxury dwellings can take over the prime land.

08. What’s the alternative then?

We believe in architecture that puts the needs of people who live in our buildings front and centre. We believe that architecture shouldn’t be used as a tool of capital, making profit at the cost of the city’s residents. At the very least, architects working in estate regeneration should be doing their upmost to put the needs of people before finance.

09. What’s the long term vision for Architectural Workers?

We’re working towards unionisation of all architectural workers and shifting the public perception and architectural practice of the industry. Find our core demands in our manifesto (coming soon).

Call for debate: Responses

We are Architectural Workers; employed by the practices facilitating the transfer of public land to the private purse through urban (re)development.

In December 2016, following the media frenzy over Patrik Schumacher, we posted an open letter, calling for the role of the architect in estate regeneration to be put under scrutiny. We challenged our bosses, deemed to be experts in the field, to a public debate.

As of 07th February 2017, four of the six practices have responded to our call – with three accepting our invitation. Below are all the responses.


Would be delighted to attend Regards Paul  (07.10.16)

Paul Karakusevic, Karakusevic Carson Architects


Thank you for your invitation. I would be pleased to join you in a discussion and correct assumptions that you are making about what motivates, me and my practice. Please put forward some dates and I will confirm my availability. As you are keen to have transparency about what motivates me I kindly ask the same in return and wish to know who I am addressing. (09.12.16)

Alex Ely, Mae Architects


Dear Architectural Workers,

We share your desire to see these complex issues discussed and debated openly and for the RIBA to support this by providing a platform for it. I am aware that the RIBA is actively looking at this, that Jane Duncan has a series of debates starting in the New Year including the issues raised by Patrik Schumacher’s speech and wider issues of regeneration.

If any of your number actually do work in my practice, as is implied by your correspondence, they cannot have failed to notice that we have already been explicitly clear about our views on this matter. We have set these out in our joint publication ‘Altered Estates (http://www.alteredestates.co.uk/ ) in widely attended presentations on the matter at The London Society, National Housing Federation conference, New London Architecture and so on. An abbreviated version also appears in the current edition of The London Society Journal.

Your correspondence contains one assertion I feel I must respond to right away, and ahead of the debate we would all like to see. You imply that we are happy to pay at less than The London Living Wage. None of our employees is paid less than the London Living Wage. In fact we benchmark our salary structure carefully to ensure that it is fair and competitive, we are proud to hold ‘Investors in People’ status and to be listed amongst Building Magazine’s top 50 employers.

So I too look forward to the debates taking place. I quite understand that housing is inescapably political and that there are wide ranging views about it, as we have seen. The debates should serve to inform opinion in what threatens to become a ‘post truth’ age; they should be open, measured and meaningful. In that context, we are more than happy to participate and to present our long history of regeneration projects, of which we are extremely proud, for public scrutiny. (13.12.17)

Ben Derbyshire, HTA Design + RIBA President-Elect


We will not engage with an anonymous, unaccountable group, but we would encourage you to be part of upcoming public housing debates that are being organised by the RIBA. (16.12.16)

(anonymous), Haworth Tompkins


 

You can find these responses, with follow up questions, on the comments section here.

We have not received a response from PRP Architects or dRMM.

If you are interested in our debate, would like to submit a question to your boss, or would like to join us as we organise it, please contact us at architecturalworkers@riseup.net. Anonymity will be respected.